We're too far into the season for any more pronouncements about the St. Louis Cardinals "turning the corner," "coming together," or "gathering momentum."
But the Redbirds' game Friday night, which represented the midway point of the 2014 championship race, was the best and most complete individual contest the Cardinals have put together this year.
The game had atmosphere of a playoff tilt and the Cardinals had their hands full with ridiculously tough lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu. But St. Louis came up big time and time again with the defense when the game was one the line and were able to come away with the win despite the fact that they had to match Ryu with Carlos Martinez who was making only his third career start.
Martinez only lasted 4 1/3 innings and allowed nine baserunners, three on walks. While he needs to develop consistency, which isn't a surprise either for a guy his age or for a player who is trying to transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation, his arsenal was absolutely nasty. He hit the 100 mph mark on the radar gun several times. And he was dealing an unhittable slider that, if Martinez can perfect it, will be devastating for righty hitters.
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Jon Jay may have had the play of the game with a spectacular one one, one out diving catch on the centerfield warning track. When Juan Uribe hit the ball, judging from his Puigesque bat flip/arm raising gesture, he apparently thought it was going to be a home run. Even though the ball didn't make it over the wall, if Jay wouldn't have caught it, the hit would have almost certainly put the tying run in scoring position. And I wouldn't have been surprised if it scored the runner from first and put the tying run on third with a chance to tie the game on a sacrifice fly.
Allen Craig helped out Martinez a couple of times. He made a sliding catch that prevented one baserunner. But, even more spectacularly, in the fourth inning with one out he cut off a ball down the right field line hit by A.J. Ellis and threw a perfect strike to second base to cut Ellis down.
Yadier Molina, who has had a terrible time at the plate lately, hit a solo homer to help out the offense. And he continues to do a great job managing the pitchers and playing great defense.
Jhonny Peralta has been better than advertised with the leather. He made a couple of key plays Friday including gunning out Puig with a great throw from the hole. He also turned a slick double play to bail the Birds out a jam.
So far this season it seems that the Cardinals couldn't get everybody -- or at least most of the players -- hot at the same time. With more guys pulling on the rope, they have a better chance to win the tug of war.
And it can't be discounted that this underperforming team went into Los Angeles to face the Best Team Money Can Buy -- which is also extremely motivated after St. Louis sent it home in the National League Championship Series -- and has given the Dodgers all they could handle in the first two games.
I'll be pretty happy if the Birds can split the four-game set one the road with either two or three of their starting pitchers injured.